Back-to-school shopping costs add up quick. Here are some tips on how to save money.

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One of my favorite times of year has always been back-to-school shopping. I’ve always loved stationery, so getting to pick out pens, pencils, folders, and paper is never considered a chore.

Combine this with back-to-school clothes shopping and you are pretty much in a dream scenario for me.

But the problem is that all this shopping adds up. The fancy pens and pencil cases, the specific folders, the new shirts and hoodies. There is also all the new technology that many students are required to have and additional supplies that teachers need for their classrooms.  A friend of mine was particularly peeved when she was searching for a carbonless lab notebook that of course they don’t sell in any of local stores and the teacher/school didn’t offer any for purchase.

School supply companies market to kids

As I was in the store the other night. I saw mothers with their children, frazzled as the kids negotiated for the Batman folder and the glittery pencils that cost 20 cents more. We took our kids out to Target yesterday and my 4-year-old was begging for highlighters.

The conversation went like this:

Him: “Actually, THESE are the markers I want.”  (Yes, he actually does say actually, which is quite comical in its own right.)

Me: Those aren’t markers, those are highlighters, and I promise to get them for you when you are older.

Him: But I want them now!

Weighing what your kids want and what they need

This devolved into me explaining how he’ll need them when he’s reading really big books for studying to highlight important information. And he countered with how he needs them now because he’s going to be a zoologist and needs to read big books about animals. (No, I did not buy the highlighters and we stuck with the pack of Crayola washable markers.)

While I like my kids to feel special on the first day, I also don’t want to go broke doing it. So how does a parent manage to make their kids and their bank account happy? Well, there’s compromise, but there’s also finding the best deals out there. This post may be a little late for those of you who started school in mid-August. However, this strategy can still apply when it comes to new clothes or supplies any time of year.

Back-to-school shopping tips

  • Compare prices, but don’t go crazy. Spend a small amount of time looking up prices and deals online and even in mailers and newspaper inserts. It’s fine to try to find the best deal, but don’t go overboard in research to save just a few cents or dollars. Your time is worth something, too.
  • Shop wherever you’ll find what you need when you need it. Sometimes, if I have the time I’ll order it online if it’s cheaper (Amazon Now isn’t available in my area and even Amazon Prime has me waiting two days for most items.) But if I need something in the next day, I’ll check out Walmart and Target, or even a local drugstore or grocery store for quickie school supply items.
  • Look in-store for sales. With so many people shopping online, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling. Is there something your kid really loves? Unicorns, dinosaurs, Vampirina? Look for in-store deals on what they have in stock AFTER the rush for back-to-school and other holidays have passed and pick it up then. We waited until the day before school to get my son’s new backpack (once most other kids had gotten their stuff), and got 30 percent off.
  • Be wary of some deals. Pricing can be different depending on sizing, and the deal may not apply to the item in the size you need. Looking for shoes we were tricked by this one (and wound up spending $20 more), so be cautious and double check on pricing before you get to the register.
  • DIY/improvise if you can. If you can’t find what your kid really wants or needs, try improvising or doing it yourself. When it comes to clothes this can be tough, but there are ways to add pizazz to your kid’s clothes, especially if they like glitter. For kids who love animals, get cost-effective plain shirts and iron-on or sew-on patches to give them personalization. School supplies like pens and pencils can be easily decorated with glitter and stickers for a fun way to write.

The more kids you have, the more important it is to be aware of your spending. In addition to these tips, use hand-me-downs if you can to supplement wardrobes, and even do clothing swaps with other local parents in the neighborhood.

Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel


Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of

Family, News

back to school, Very Personal Finance

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Article last modified on September 5, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How to Save Money Back-to-School Shopping for Your Kids - AMP.